Prosecuting Criminals: Salt Lake County DA’s Office staffing shortage

Local News

SALT LAKE COUNTY, Utah (ABC4) – A little before noon, and the loudest thing you can hear in the breakroom of the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office is the vending machine. The halls aren’t much different, and District Attorney Sim Gill says that’s the problem.

“We’re about 20 to 22 prosecutors down,” said Gill.

2020 made things worse.

“Our office and staff was involved in the continuity of operations through the beginning of COVID, through the winds that we had, from the earthquakes and the protests that occurred,” said Gill.

COVID also closed the court system, Division Director with the District Attorney’s Office Josh Graves says they went through almost all of 2020 without doing a single jury trial.

“And you can imagine how all that just piles up over years,” said Graves.

Graves oversees the screening units. These units determine if prosecutors have enough evidence to formally charge someone with a crime.

“Our office last year handled close to 17,000 criminal case submissions,” said Graves.

Graves says around 30 people, paralegals and attorneys, handle those submissions. In the end, he says it’s the victims who suffer.

“It’s always difficult to explain to them why you got to wait another six months now, because we just aren’t there yet with our capabilities in the courts because of the pandemic,” said Graves.

The backlog also impacts the people facing the charges.

“We have defendants sitting in jail for a long time waiting for their trial to come,” said Graves.

Gill says money is a big part of the problem. The private sector has hiring bonuses and higher salaries. Another issue is the impact of the pandemic. People’s priorities changed.

“There’s a realignment of values,” said Gill.

As the number of job openings increased at the DA’s office, the number of qualified candidates dropped. According to a compensation presentation from September, just 91 qualified candidates applied in 2021. In 2018, 187 qualified candidates applied.

According to the DA and Salt Lake City Prosecutor’s Office’s annual report, 13,879 cases were filed in the Salt Lake City Justice Courts in 2020. When the reported was filed, 13 line prosecutors were handling those cases.

That’s more than 1,000 cases per line prosecutor in one year.

Silence in the breakroom is also a sign of the amount of work Gill says his team is doing.

“The men and women who work here, care about the job that they do, and they lean into that,” said Gill.

Because whether there are 2 or 22 openings, criminals don’t care, and the DA’s Office can never close.

“When crime happens, it causes injuries to victims, offenders and the community in which crime occurs. Justice is repairing all those injuries,” said Gill.

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